San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum kicked off their “summer of contemporary” this June with their new showcase, “28 Chinese”. The full sweeping exhibition is brought to us by Miami collectors and Museum founders, Mera and Don Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection. The result of six research trips to China between 2001 and 2012, the Rubells see their collection as a “personal, regional and international” endeavor. To them, it is important to go where the art is being made and to see it in context without the constraints of a fair or gallery. Featuring a healthy mix of established and lesser known Chinese artists, “28 Chinese” was originally conceived for a private Miami exhibit where each artist would be given a separate room. Transforming this idea to the museum layout was made possible by guest curator Allison Harding. She shares, “Together, these 28 artists provide a springboard into the vast landscape of contemporary art in China.”
Comprised of painting, photography, video work, sculpture and large-scale installations, “28 Chinese” is an exploration into modern Chinese art. Working in contemporary methods, the selected artists often delve into their relationship with traditional Chinese culture by way of conceptual processes. One of the most monumental works in the exhibition is Zhu Jinshi’s “Boat” (2012), displayed in the north court of the museum. This large-scale installation is their biggest yet, measuring 40 feet long. Comprised of 8,000 sheets of crinkled calligraphy paper, viewers are encouraged to enter the vessel which suspends precariously from the ceiling via wire. Zhu Jinshi explains that his work is his attempt to “infinitely extend every moment,” using the movement of a boat and its inherent ability to navigate waters in any direction. He sees the installation as a “symbolic journey” through time and experience.
“Boat” (2012) by Zhu Jinshi, paper, bamboo and cotton thread.
Another standout is He Xiangyu’s “Cola Project”. Starting in 2009, He Xiangyu boiled down 127 tons of Coca Cola to create a highly corrosive residue. With the help of industrial workers, the artist was able to extract over 40 cubic meters of the toxic substance. His entire process is documented through photography, traditional Chinese ink drawings (made with the cola residue) and an actual vitrine of the product situated directly in the center of the gallery. Coca Cola bottles line the back wall as a kind of testament to the project, while paying homage to the American pop-art movement of the 1960s. It’s contextual narrative is weighted with the over-arching commentary on Western consumer culture and it’s effects in China.
“Spread B-051” (2010) by Xu Zhen, embroidery on canvas.
In addition to these more immersive works, a handful of contemporary gems are sprinkled throughout the permanent collection of the Asian Art Museum. The prominent Zhang Huan’s “To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond” (Distant) (1997) rests among antiquities on the 3rd floor while Chinese superstar Ai Wei Wei’s “Ton of Tea” (2005) stands out in its crisp minimalism on the 2nd floor. “28 Chinese” is a bold step for the museum in another way. Museum Director Jay Xu just announced their appointment of the new assistant contemporary curator, Karin Oen, to oversee all their future contemporary programming. “28 Chinese” is on view until August 16th.